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Like oysters, mussels are fantastic filter-feeders, cleaning the oceans of plankton that, unchecked, could lead to vast algae blooms and huge dead zones. The vast majority of the mussels we eat are farmed in cold northern waters and are completely safe. (Make sure to toss aside the ones that don’t open after steaming, though; they were dead before you bought them!)

Moules à la provençale

Serves 4

3 pounds of mussels, debearded (scrape away any algae on the outside) and rinsed
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 finely chopped shallots
8 roma tomatoes, quartered and then diced
1 red pepper, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon of thyme
3/4 cup tomato juice
Sea salt
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
Several fresh basil leaves, cut in strips

Heat the olive oil in a pot, lightly sauté shallots, garlic, red pepper, diced tomatoes, and season with sea salt and pepper. Add thyme and bay leaves and let the tomatoes cook until they’re reduced to a well blended sauce. Pour in the tomato juice, add the mussels, and then cover the pot and bring to a boil. Remove cover and cook for an additional 10 minutes, until all the mussels have opened (throw away those that remain shut), stirring occasionally. Add basil at the last minute. Serve in bowls—preferably with mayonnaise-topped french fries on the side.